Well, you can't really replace Jerry Garcia and nobody's trying to, but Jimmy Herring has been asked to fill his shoes as best he can.
Last year, the band once known as The Grateful Dead, was touring as the Other Ones , and it was then that Mr. Herring was asked to join. And so he did. Besides trying to learn the 38 year old repetory of the Dead, playing the 128 songs on last year's tour was paramount. This year, the band now known simply as The Dead, is often playing with a more energized tempo than before and has added some new songs by both Phil Lesh, the Dead's bassist, and Bob Weir, rhythm guitarist and singer. And as for Mr. Herring, being asked to fill Garcia's role in the band is certainly not possible, at least to legions of Deadheads, but according to Lesh, Herring has gracefully passed the test.
"Jimmy's absorbed the essence of Garcia that he wants to carry with him. He knows the hooks, the critical phrases or fills that can identify or define a song, or be used as material in improvisation. And improvising is one of the things that Jimmy does really well."
The son of a school teacher and a superior court judge, Herring first became an avid fisherman and a jazz fan while growing up in North Carolina. His musical path began in the early '80's, when he studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles. Friends say,
"He can talk about tying fishing knots for hours", as well as, "sit in his basement in his house with his guitar and just go for hours."
In 1989, Mr. Herring joined Bruce Hampton's group, Aquarium Rescue Unit and toured with them until 1996, playing "mixed rock, free-jazz, and bluegrass" as many as 300 nights a year. Never a deadhead, Herring first approached Garcia's music in '98 when he sometimes joined a group called Jazz is Dead. After two years there, the Allman Brothers called and hoped Herring could help replace the recently "suspended" band member, Dickey Betts. Four months later, Phil Lesh approached Herring on the recomendation of a former "Allman" member, Derek Trucks. Playing Grateful Dead tunes, worried Herring;
"I started having an identity crisis, I was thinking, 'Am I trying to live off of something that's already happened?'"
But his fears were quickly allayed when the band convinced him that it was "about the music, not nostalgia".
And in this case, when one thing leads to another, it leads to Mr. Herring's current position with the newest rendition of the Grateful Dead.
"Deadheads are always coming up to me with this sorrowful look in their eyes, thinking it's a lot worse than it really is. I have to say to them, 'You know it's really not that bad.'"
Source: New York Times;March 5, 2003.